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Brass Tacks was born as a result of Anaka Narayanan’s longing for well cut, stylish clothes fabricated from natural, handcrafted textiles. With no formal training in design and with only her passion guiding her, this economist turned designer established a unique fashion brand in Chennai. Brass Tacks, meaning ‘to return to the basics’ has a simple focus – to design every piece in a way that makes the wearer feel empowered and confident. “I want the wearer to feel feminine because a lot of strength is derived from taking pride in who you are, but the main goal is to design garments that appeal to some quality or longing in everyone – be it adventurous, feminine, bold, sassy, or strong,” writes Anaka in her blog.
From economics to fashion design
As an economic analyst living in New York, Anaka was far removed from the world of fashion and textiles. However, not finding affordable, stylish clothes tailored from handcrafted fabric during her trips to Chennai led her to start Brass Tacks in 2006.
The brand creates four collections a year focusing on natural fabrics like handlooms, organic cotton, and khadi and traditional patterns like Ikat, Ajrakh, Bandhani, and Jamdani and designing them into stylish, contemporary clothing.
The idea is not just using handwoven fabrics and transforming them in to modern silhouettes that fit well.
“By marrying traditional textile crafts with a very contemporary, urban look, we hope to change the way the textile industry operates and the way people understand these crafts”, explains Anaka.
A personal connection to textiles
With her mother being the co-founder of a handwoven saree store in Chennai, Anaka grew up surrounded by the texture, scent, and colours of natural fabrics. Speaking about her passion for textiles and patterns she says, “It was the influence that a particular aesthetic sense had on me just from constant exposure.”
“I remember a game I used to play when I was around 4 or 5 years old…I would take my mother’s dupattas and sarees and lay them out on the floor so they formed a patchwork of myriad colours and patterns. The game involved jumping from the bed onto a pre-decided colour or pattern of textile. I sometimes look back and wonder if that’s when my relationship with hand-crafted textiles began,” she says and adds,” It was also the association that the smell of handloom cotton had for me – it reminded me of my mother because that’s what she wore everyday- and that made my connection to those textiles more personal.”
Brass Tacks started off with simple, well-designed tops, skirts, button-down shirts and pants, mostly in solid colours. I was very influenced by American and European designers and I think it showed in my work; I was trying to impose a very western aesthetic onto natural, sometimes hand-crafted textiles,” she says. “Over the years, my style has evolved and I began working a lot more with hand-crafted textiles and experimenting with silhouettes that weren’t so straightforward,” she adds. Street style influences Brass Tacks’ design and the nuances of traditional Indian fabrics inform its textile choices.
Giving shoppers a glimpse of history
The complex Ajrakh motifs, the beautiful Bandhani, the labour intensive block prints, the lovely Ikat technique, and the extra weft weaving technique of Bengal; all find a place in her collections. Her favourite off course is Ikat. “Ikat textiles are so much more than patterned fabrics. They represent a skill which has been handed down over generations, a skill that is a labour of precision, technique and love,” she says. She further adds,” I feel sad that many of our traditional Ikat techniques are already lost. The skill required for an intricate Ikat motif hasn’t been preserved. Some of the fabrics used in Brass Tacks’ collections might become museum pieces for the next generation to appreciate. I feel proud that I’m giving Brass Tacks’ shoppers a piece of our history, and in the process sharing a piece of my childhood.”
Resurrecting traditional Indian textiles
For reasons like the lack of demand for handlooms and the competition with powerloom and mill made fabric, the handloom sector is shrinking. “That’s one of the reasons why my business focuses on bringing traditonal fabrics back in new ways”, says Anaka. Describing the challenges faced in working with handlooms, she adds, “Developing designs or finding textures that can’t easily be imitated by powerloom is our constant endeavour. There is also the task of developing fabric constructions that come naturally to the weavers but that are strong enough to transform into a tailored garment.”
As part of their goal to use as many natural and hand-crafted textiles as possible, Brass Tacks’ has been experimenting with khadi denim to design a collection that can compete on the same platform as any other fashion label.
Creating unique pieces with personality
A well-fitting garment can make the wearer feel smart and confident and hence fit is the most important fetaure of any piece of clothing. “Not too many Indian brands had garments that were both well-fitting and used interesting fabric. So, at Brass Tacks, we create garments that suit most Indian body types. When they don’t, we create fresh pieces that work for different body types”, says Anaka of the brands attention to detail.
Brass Tacks’ customers are largely working women between 27 and 40 who are well-travelled, well-informed, and whose fashion sensibilities are influenced by global trends. They are mostly people looking for comfort and style in the same piece, people who value unique, affordably priced pieces that reflect their personality
“In the future, customers can expect more variety in silhouettes, textiles, and price points. We will also have a wider range of classic and experimental pieces that our customers can choose from,” she ends.
All images courtesy Brass Tacks.
The Sustainable Fashion Hub is a series that examines shifts in the the global fashion industry to more sustainable and ethical practices and processes, with a special focus on India. It explores what goes into creating a just and sustainable fashion value chain – from the creation of garments and lifestyle accessories to making them available to consumers. All content on the hub is produced with 100% editorial independence by The Alternative.
The Hub is supported by , India’s first certified organic designer apparel brand. With products that are directly sourced from organic cotton farmers at fair trade terms. Bhu:Sattva® uses natural colours, vegetable and herb dyes and goes further to work on reviving various forms of traditional weaving and handloom. Information on its products and processes can be found at http://www.bhusattva.com